Women's History: Emma Hart Willard

Emma C. (Hart) Willard (February 23, 1787 – April 15, 1870) was an American women's rights advocate and the pioneer who founded the first women's school of higher education.
In 1814, she opened the Middlebury Female Seminary in her home. After moving to New York she opened the Waterford Academy in 1819 in Waterford, New York, but it was closed in 1821 due to a lack of continued funding by its citizens and administration.

In September 1821, however, the city of Troy of New York, requested that the school be moved there, and Willard accepted the offer and founded the Troy Female Seminary. Afterward, renamed the Emma Willard School, it was notably prosperous and successful.

Amid growing public awareness of her work, Mrs. Willard formulated her ideas about women's education in a draft she called "A Plan for Improving Female Education." To remove any "taint" of presuming intellectual equality with men, which would have spoiled her chances for an audience, she revised the document repeatedly.

Mrs. Willard's husband died in 1825, but she continued to manage the institution until 1838, when she placed it in the hands of her son and her daughter-in-law. In 1830, she made a tour of Europe, and three years later published Journals and Letters from Great Britain; the proceeds from the sale of the book she gave to a school for women that she helped to found in Athens, Greece.

Nearing 60, Emma Willard retired in comfort to Troy at her son's bidding and took up her writing amid the activities of the thriving school. She wrote on a remarkable variety of subjects...where women's roles and rights were concerned, she maintained a quiet conviction that woman was fundamentally man's equal. She refused to join Elizabeth Stanton, a Troy Female Seminary graduate, in a campaign for a political voice for women; the pioneer educator probably feared a backlash against women which would jeopardize their educational advancement, and in turn, the whole progress toward equality. But perhaps she felt that it was up to others to carry on a fight of which she inwardly approved. In an open letter, published just before the women's convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, she wrote: "As a human being walks in safety with both his limbs, while with one only he hobbles and is in constant danger of failing; so has human government, forgetting that God has made two sexes, depended for its movements hitherto on one alone. The march of human improvement is scarce a proper term to express its past progress, since in order to march, both limbs are required."

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